Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘typing

There is a stock phrase for the slow progress of any change: Taking three steps forward, two steps back. But wonder what it would be like if we did not take steps back.

The Edutopia article above does a disservice to education by signposting how to maintain the status quo or even reverse progress of edtech integration. To justify this, the author cited the harm of screen time and the benefits of taking notes by hand. 

I am not saying that excessive use of a device late into the night is good, nor am I saying we should only take notes with more recent technologies. I would point out that the pen vs device question gets answers that fall on either side depending on the task. 

If you need to take a quick note, draw a diagram, or mindmap, then a pen (actual or electronic) might be both more efficient and effective. But if you needed to submit a legible essay, record an interview, or document phenomena, then a keyboard, microphone, and camera are better options for these forms of writing.

We should also point out the elephant in the debate room. The ultimate form of assessment — paper-based tests — favours handwriting over other forms of writing. In such a room, students cannot cooperate with one another, fact-check their work online, or express themselves beyond basic text and drawing.

Ultimately, the strategy of note-taking also matters more than the tool of note-taking (see video and sources here). In reviewing the video, I summarised:

It does not matter if you prefer to take notes by handwriting or by typing. It is how you attempt to quickly process what you see and hear before you record it. It is about your ability to analyse and summarise.

Rising above, I find articles that try to justify handwriting tiresome and passé. They live in the past in order to divide and conquer. They encourage the large camp of teachers who are wary of technology and thus maintain the status quo. They discourage the other group of teachers that leverages on technology by making them feel like they are doing something wrong.

What is wrong is wearing rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia and taking the short term view. If we are preparing our learners for the present and future, they need to use the tools of today and tomorrow. These tools include pencils and devices. 

We need a better debate. We cannot keep arguing that students should hand-write because exams are on paper. This might help students with a grade, but it avoids the responsibility of preparing them beyond the walls of the classroom. The use of all writing tools should not just be strategic and contextual, they should also be shaped by more progressive and authentic forms of assessment. What such assessment looks like and how to implement it are far more interesting and valuable topics of discussion.

Am I happy that there is a study and meta research that reports that there is no statistically significant advantage of handwriting over typing notes?

Sort of. In a previous reflection, I explained that it is what students do with recorded notes that matters more than how they take them. Their preferences also matter.

I am also glad that there is ammunition for me to fire back to anyone that claims “research says…” and does not go deeper than that.

But here are a few more factors to consider about this debate.

First, a quiz was the measure of ability to recall. A quiz and recall — the most basic tool for the most fallible aspect of learning. Consider these: Learning is not just a measure of basic recall and our brains are designed more to forget than to remember.

Second, the students in the study were not allowed to review their notes before the quiz. On one hand, this is good experimental treatment design as it excludes one confounding variable. On the other, this is inauthentic practice — the point of good note-taking is to process them further.

Finally, this type of research has been repeated enough times for a meta study. It is an indication of technological determinism, i.e., we attribute disproportionate effects of the type of technology (writing vs typing instruments). In doing so, we foolishly discount methods of teaching and strategies for learning.

I appreciate the efforts of the Greens and one of their YouTube shows, Mental Floss. The latest episode was about schooling in the USA.

Video source

Part of the video was a segment on whether students tested better if they hand-wrote notes or if they typed them.

The research they cited revealed that students who hand-wrote notes did better on a test. I recall this research making its way around the Twitterverse and the blogosphere, so it was not news.

However, you should not take the results at face value.

First there is the question of what medium the test was taken on, and if it was paper whether that favoured writers over typers. There was also no mention of the quality and design of the questions to determine if they favoured one strategy over another.

Next is the issue of pitting one medium over another without considering learner preferences and strategies. Consider what might happen if you forced a typer to write or a writer to type.

The video also highlighted how writers might process what they hear more deeply and summarise by note-taking, while typers might resort to recording or transcribing. What was not clear was whether there were typers who summarised and writers who just recorded.


Writers Typers
Recorders   X
Summarisers X  

In the 2×2 matrix of note-taking method and note medium, only two options were mentioned in the video. How is this rigorous?

If you think about it, the matrix is far more complicated. There are more contributing and influencing factors on note-writing and test-taking. Over simplifying provides easy answers. Easy answers are not nuanced and not always right. Take note of that!


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: